A Lonely Path to Tread — short story by Gladys Hobson

He walked towards her, his body rigid, his face swollen with fury. It was if he were being choked by the clerical collar tightening around his throat.

“Is this your doing?” he asked, waving a sheet of paper in front of her. “You’re supposed to get them to accept my proposals. Now they’ve come up with this!”

Her pulse was racing. She had never seen him so angry.

“But the Mother’s Union thought visiting all the families for two anniversaries was a waste of time. They don’t get inside the homes and most of the cards have to be pushed through the letterboxes. This way—”

“I want all baptism families visiting for five years, whether doors get opened or not!” he bellowed. “They would have done it if I had been there.”

Her stomach was tying itself in knots.

“I don’t think so. They were quite adamant that it was a waste of time. They want to concentrate on those who are interested and—”

I would have persuaded them.”

“I don’t think so.” She swallowed hard, but the lump in her throat would not budge. “It really was a good discussion. They came up with plans they were happy to work with. I thought they were spot on. After all, they are the ones doing the work.”

“But I run this parish!” he blasted. A rumble left his throat as he shook his head. “I should not have left it to you: this is far too important.”

She avoided his blazing eyes.

“Well, look at it this way: at least, without you present they felt able to say what they thought. If you had been there, they—”

“Are you telling me I frighten them? Ridiculous!”

She knew it was nothing of the sort. If he had been a fly on the wall at the meeting, he might be a little more humble. No — a man like him would be even angrier at having his instructions-disguised-as-a-request, questioned. They had told her they were not listened to. In truth, they were scared of him. If they disagreed with anything he said, they were likely to get verbally attacked.

“Mark, I—”

“I’ll arrange another meeting.” He shook an angry finger at her. “And you will stay out of it.”

He marched out of the vestry: a short man with fine white hair, large nose, thin lips and a light frame on which a too-large black cassock swung uneasily in time with his long stride. She watched him disappear from sight, and then sat down at the desk on which were spread a pot of various writing tools, several documents, and the funeral register, open ready for the service she was due to conduct that afternoon.

Pushing aside the register, she placed her elbows on the desk and her head in her hands, refusing to let her tears of anger and frustration, flow. That would be giving in to his bullying, and she was determined not to give him an excuse to get rid of her.

Her mind went back to her ‘call’ and her struggle to accept it: an ever-present reminder of what, and who she was. No angel sang, no lights flashed, no mystic voice sounded from the flames of the candles, but she had felt the Holy Spirit’s anointing and holy joy had filled her heart.

Refreshed by the memory, she looked around the vestry, her eyes settling on her robes hanging on the rail ready for the service. Maybe her vicar did not appreciate her, but most of the congregation welcomed her presence. Many were warm and gracious towards her, including some Parochial Church Council members, who had previously voted against women ministers. She smiled: she was winning.

Voices could be heard coming from the far end of the church: Joyce, the sexton was receiving mourners and handing out service and hymn books. Had she heard Mark bellowing at her? More important, had the mourners? She bowed her head in prayer.

“Be with me, Lord I pray. Make me worthy of my calling. May all who attend this service, leave the church comforted and blessed. And as I take each hand in mine, give me the words to speak, and a heart to love. So may your name be glorified in this place, and saddened hearts be lifted in hope of life eternal.”

Slipping on her cassock, snowy-white surplice, and black scarf, she walked serenely out of the vestry. Shutting the door behind her, she proceeded to the church porch, greeting the mourners already in the pews with a gentle smile. She glanced at her watch. The funeral was still ten minutes away, and yet people were coming along the church path in a steady stream, chatting to each other; some cheerfully, others with sorrow in their voices. Judging by the numbers on foot and the cars parking nearby, it was going to be a big funeral. Mark was not going to be pleased: he conducted all the important funerals.

 

Lorna sat back in her chair and read the words on the computer screen. Writing down what had happened that morning, and on many other occasions, during the years of her ministry was a mere therapeutic exercise; it would not go in her book. What then could she write? She sighed: clearly this literary work was going to be only half her story. Acceptance had come easily from the man and woman in the street: indifference, grudging acceptance or even open hostility had been the attitude of many clergy and some officers of the church.

But why not tell the whole story? The anger, the tears of frustration, the loneliness, the denigration of who and what she was? Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter thirteen, popped into her mind, and she knew why not.

Wiping away the tear from her cheek, she smiled as she pressed ‘delete’.

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One Response to “A Lonely Path to Tread — short story by Gladys Hobson”

  1. Payton L. Inkletter Says:

    Poor Lorna, trying to minister to the real needs of real people, in the church, where religion has been imprisoned in the institutional straightjacket of administrative conformity to the ideas of unspiritual, or at best, protospiritual men. And having to conceal what really goes on, or suffer unreasonable consequences.

    Yes, these longsuffering souls doing the best work in the institutional church have to content themselves with the faith understanding that the higher spiritual economy appreciates their efforts, and that much of the reward will be long delayed.

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